The recommended treatment for lymphedema is a
treatment plan called complex decongestive
therapy (CDT). It is also known as decongestive
lymphatic therapy (DLT).
CDT is not a cure for lymphedema, but it can help
control the symptoms of swelling and pain. Although
CDT takes time and effort, it can be used to
effectively control your lymphedema.
Complex decongestive therapy
Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a
specialised massage technique designed to
stimulate the flow of fluid and reduce swelling.
Multilayer lymphedema bandaging (MLLB) uses
bandages and compression garments to move
fluid out of the affected limb.
Remedial exercises designed to
activate muscles in the limb to
improve lymph drainage.
Skin care is required to prevent
Each of these treatments is described in more detail
CDT begins with an intensive phase of therapy, during
which you may receive daily treatment for up to six
weeks. This is followed by the second phase, known as
the maintenance phase. During the maintenance phase,
you will be encouraged to take over your own care
using simple lymph drainage techniques (MLD
administered by either yourself or a carer) and exercise
while wearing compression garments.
Manual lymphatic drainage
During manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), your lymphedema
therapist will use special massage techniques to move fluid
from the swollen areas into working lymph nodes where it
can be drained.
It is important you receive MLD from a trained lymphedema
therapist and not a regular masseur. This is because the
technique requires a detailed knowledge of the lymphatic
system to be performed correctly.
Your lymphedema therapist will also teach you a
range of massage techniques you can use during
the maintenance phase.
MLD may not be suitable if you have certain health
conditions. For example:
•current or suspected deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
•a blood clot in one of the deep veins in the body
•swelling in your legs due to heart failure
•cancer in the affected area
Multilayer lymphedema bandaging
Unlike the blood circulation system, there is no central
pump, such as the heart, to move fluid around the
lymphatic system. Instead, the lymphatic system uses the
massaging effect of the muscles surrounding the lymph
vessels and nodes to move the fluid.
The aim of multilayer lymphedema bandaging (MLLB) is to
support the muscles during exercise and encourage them
to move fluid out of the affected limb. MLLB is often used
after a session of MLD to prevent fluid accumulating in the
You will be taught how to correctly apply your
own bandages and compression garments so you
can continue to use MLLB during the maintenance